When a baby dies

When a Baby Dies:
Answers to Comfort Grieving Parents
By Ronald H. Nash (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 128 pp)

Reviewed by Paula R. Kincaid
Tuesday, April 6, 1999
https://www.layman.org/bookreviews4710/ [accessed 12/5/17]

I was crying before I finished the prologue. Ronald H. Nash begins When A Baby Dies with the story of a seminary student who described what he and his wife experienced in the birth and the death of their first child. Nash correctly observes that it is difficult to read this testimony without feeling great empathy for parents who have lost a child. He attempts to provide an answer to the question, “Is my baby with God now?”

When a Baby Dies offers a biblically grounded assurance that “all children who die in infancy and all mentally handicapped persons whose intellectual and moral judgment cannot surpass that of children are saved.” His intention is “to answer the question of infant salvation in a way that is consistent with the plain teaching of Scripture and a sound theology based on the Word of God.”

Wrong answers

The first four chapters explore several wrong approaches to the question of infant salvation.

Chapter one discusses Pelagianism, which teaches that all humans are born morally innocent. This belief ignores the fact of original sin. Nash cited Scripture, including Rom. 3:23 and Psa. 51:5, to oppose the idea that humans are born without sinful tendencies.

Universalism, the belief that all humans will eventually be saved, is discussed and dismissed in chapter two. Again, Nash cites Scripture, including Mat. 7:13-14, John 3:17-18 and Rev. 20:11-15.

Chapter three examines the teaching that when children die before they are mentally and morally responsible for their actions, the issue of their salvation is postponed until after they die. Nash quotes Scripture (Heb. 9:27; Rev. 20:11-13) to negate this belief, stating, “In all these passages and more, one simple point stands out: Physical death marks the boundary of human opportunity for salvation.”

Chapter four deals with the widely held belief that baptism saves from sin. Nash finds it regrettable that many “believe and teach that infants and the mentally incapable are saved from divine judgment by virtue of the fact that they have been baptized.”

A case for infant salvation

Nash makes his case on the basis of four well-established biblical claims.

1. Infants are incapable of moral good or evil (Deu. 1:39; Jer. 19:4). Infants do not know good or evil, therefore they lack the ability to perform morally good or morally evil acts.

2. Divine judgment is administered on the basis of sins committed in the body (II Cor. 5:10; I Cor. 6:9-10; Rev. 20:11-13). God’s condemnation is based on the actual commission of sins. Since infants die before they are able to perform either good or evil acts, deceased infants cannot be judged. Nash quotes theologian R.A. Webb as saying that by definition, an unregenerate infant “cannot die in infancy: such a result would defeat the ends of justice. Consequently, … all infants dying in infancy are elect, redeemed, regenerated and glorified. … The death of an infant, therefore, is the proof of its salvation.”

3. Regenerate infants (Jer. 1:5; Luke 1:15). These biblical passages give examples of infants chosen by God for salvation while still in the womb. If it happened twice, then it can surely happen in other cases.

4. Jesus and the little children (Mat. 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17). Here Nash quotes 19th century Presbyterian Charles Hodge, “The conduct and language of our Lord in reference to children are not to be regarded as matters of sentiment, or simply expressive of kindly feelings. He evidently looked upon them as the lambs of the flock for which, as the good Shepherd, He laid down his life, and of whom He said they shall never perish, and no man could pluck them out of his hands.”

Reformed theology

Reformed Christians, according to Nash, believe that no human, adult or child, can be saved apart from God’s choosing them, Christ’s dying for them, and the Holy Spirit’s calling them. “If Christ died specifically for those whom God chose or elected, then infant salvation becomes possible, because God in his grace is fully capable of electing infants as well as adults.”

Benjamin Warfield, a former Princeton Seminary theologian stated, “If all that die in infancy are saved, it can only be through the almighty operation of the Holy Spirit, who works when, and where, and how He pleases, through whose ineffable grace the Father gathers these little ones to the home He has prepared for them.” The doctrine of infant salvation, he concludes, “can find such a place in the Reformed theology. It can find such place in no other system of theological thought.”

Prenatal death - Abortion, miscarriage

The last chapter, entitled “Some final questions,” ends with a discussion of prenatal death. Nash gives a brief description of what happens at conception, then quotes several passages of Scripture (Psa. 139:13-16; Jer. 1:4-5; Luke 1:39-45) that describe the unborn in “ways that clearly imply humanity and personhood.”

John Jefferson Davis, associate professor of theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, says such texts show “that categories normally applied to postnatal man are applied also to the unborn. … It is hard to resist the impression that God takes a deep interest in the unborn child … Far from showing that the unborn are less than persons, these texts appear, in fact, to point in the opposite direction.”

This section, as Nash readily admits, “carries unavoidable implications as to the immorality of abortion on demand.”

He believes that life in the womb is life, from the moment of conception. “And if the argument of this book about infant salvation is sound - as I obviously believe it is - then prenatal human life that is terminated either by miscarriage or abortion falls under the same general conditions of divine election as applies in the case of children who die in infancy.”

Heaven scent

Tears fell again while I read the epilogue. Entitled “Heaven Scent,” it is a story of the premature birth of Danae Lu Blessing. The story, according to a footnote, was found on the Internet and is unattributed. It’s a beautiful story of faith and hope. And it supports the belief, that yes, God does protect and care for the little ones.

____________________

Extra note by Jon Hobbs

Such teaching also gives hope for the many babies who die in infancy through war, famine and disease. A good part of the “great multitude” then will be those taken straight to heaven, and saved from the pain and hardships of this world.

There is great comfort here then for grieving parents. But there is also a gentle challenge for those who have aborted children: As adults we are responsible for the wrong we do. We therefore need to trust and follow Jesus as Christians, receive his forgiveness, and so be certain of one day joining our little one in heaven with him.

Below, is an article by Sam Storms, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/do-all-infants-go-to-heaven, accessed 2/3/2020

Recent revelatory videos about the practices of Planned Parenthood have stirred many to ask about the eternal destiny of these precious unborn babies. So are those who die in infancy lost? The same question applies to those who live beyond infancy but, because of mental disability or some other handicap, are incapable of moral discernment, deliberation, or volition.

This is more than a theoretical issue designed for speculation. It touches one of the most emotionally and spiritually unsettling experiences in all of life: the loss of a young child.

The view I embrace is that all those who die in infancy, as well as those so mentally incapacitated they’re incapable of making an informed choice, are among the elect of God, chosen for salvation before the world began. The evidence for this view is scant, but significant.

1. In Romans 1:20 Paul describes recipients of general revelation as being “without excuse.” They can’t blame their unbelief on a lack of evidence. There is sufficient revelation of God’s existence in the natural order to establish the moral accountability of all who witness it. Might this imply that those who are not recipients of general revelation (i.e., infants) are therefore not accountable to God or subject to wrath? In other words, wouldn’t those who die in infancy have an “excuse” in that they neither receive general revelation nor have the capacity to respond to it?

2. There are texts that assert or imply that infants don’t know good or evil and hence lack the capacity to make morally informed—and thus responsible—choices. According to Deuteronomy 1:39 they are said to “have no knowledge of good or evil.” This in itself, however, doesn’t prove infant salvation, for they may still be held liable for the sin of Adam.

3. We must take account of the story of David’s son in 2 Samuel 12:15–23 (especially verse 23). The firstborn child of David and Bathsheba is struck by the Lord and dies. In the seven days before his death, David fasts and prays, hoping that “the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.” Yet following the child’s death, David washes, eats, and worships. Asked why he’s responding this way, David says, “Since he has died, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (v. 23).

What does it mean when David says “I shall go to him”? If this is merely a reference to the grave or death in the sense that David, too, shall one day die and be buried, one wonders why he’d say something so patently obvious. Also, it appears that David draws some measure of comfort from knowing that he will “go to him.” It’s the reason why David resumes the normal routine of life. It appears to be the reason he ceases from the display of grief. It appears to be a truth from which he derives comfort and encouragement. How could any of this be true if David will simply die like his son? It would, therefore, appear David believed he would be reunited with his deceased infant. Does this imply that at least this one particular infant was saved? Perhaps. But if so, are we justified in constructing a doctrine in which we affirm the salvation of all who die in infancy?

4. There is the consistent testimony of Scripture that people are judged on the basis of sins committed voluntary and consciously in the body (see 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Cor. 6:9–10; Rev. 20:11–12). In other words, eternal judgment is always based on conscious rejection of divine revelation (whether in creation, conscience, or Christ) and willful disobedience. Are infants capable of either? There is no explicit account in Scripture of any other judgment based on any other grounds. Thus, those dying in infancy are saved because they do not (indeed cannot) satisfy the conditions for divine judgment.

5. Related to the above point, is what R.  A. Webb states:
[If a deceased infant] were sent to hell on no other account than that of original sin, there would be a good reason to the divine mind for the judgment, but the child’s mind would be a perfect blank as to the reason of its suffering. Under such circumstances, it would know suffering, but it would have no understanding of the reason for its suffering. It could not tell its neighbor—it could not tell itself—why it was so awfully smitten; and consequently the whole meaning and significance of its sufferings, being to it a conscious enigma, the very essence of penalty would be absent, and justice would be disappointed of its vindication. Such an infant could feel that it was in hell, but it could not explain, to its own conscience, why it was there.

6. We have what would appear to be clear biblical evidence that at least some infants are regenerate in the womb, such that if they died in their infancy they would be saved. This provides at least a theoretical basis for considering whether the same may be true of all who die in infancy. As Ronald Nash points out, “If this sort of thing happens even once, it can certainly happen in other cases.” Supporting texts include Jeremiah 1:5 and Luke 1:15.

7. Some have appealed to Matthew 19:13–15 (also Mark 10:13–16; Luke 18:15–17) where Jesus declares, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Is he simply saying if one wishes to be saved one must be as trusting as a child (i.e., devoid of skepticism and arrogance)? In other words, is Jesus merely describing the kind of people who enter the kingdom? Or is he saying these very children were recipients of saving grace? If the latter were true, it would seem to imply Jesus knew that the children he was then receiving would all die in infancy. Is that credible?

8. Let me close with an argument that’s entirely subjective (and therefore of questionable evidential value). Given our understanding of God’s character as presented in Scripture, does he appear as the kind of God who would eternally condemn infants on no other ground than that of Adam’s transgression? Again, this is a subjective (and perhaps sentimental) question. But it deserves an answer, nonetheless.

I can only speak for myself, but I find the first, third, fourth, fifth, and eighth points sufficiently convincing. Therefore, I do believe in the salvation of those dying in infancy. I affirm their salvation, though, neither because they are innocent nor because they have merited forgiveness, but solely because God has sovereignly chosen them for eternal life, regenerated their souls, and applied the saving benefits of the blood of Christ to them apart from conscious faith.